The Translational Research Institute (TRI) in Brisbane, Australia brings together more than 650 staff members from four institutions to focus on biomedical research with direct clinical application. The idea for TRI originated from the development of the first cancer preventing vaccine at the University of Queensland -- a discovery with the potential to save millions of lives and generate billions of dollars for Australia. However, a lack of infrastructure and industry partnerships stalled commercialization of the vaccine for over a decade. This delay brought national attention to the need to translate research findings into meaningful health outcomes at a time when the Queensland state government also sought to invest in industries that could attract foreign investment and create jobs.
TRI is a unique collaboration between University of Queensland, Mater Medical Research Institute, Princess Alexandra Hospital, and Queensland University of Technology. These institutions came together to create a joint venture in a home facility where all could pursue a common purpose. Through cross-disciplinary collaboration, TRI was intended to provide medical innovations in a center for research excellence that could compete on a global scale while generating new economic impact.
The TRI facility was constructed adjacent to both the Princess Alexandra Hospital's clinical trials wing and to a biopharmaceutical manufacturing plant. A hybrid funding strategy combined state and national government resources with investment from The Atlantic Philanthropies. While funding also supported a new clinical trial space embedded within the hospital, this case study focuses on the TRI research facility.
To integrate the interests of all partners, a project control group with representatives from each institution consolidated user inputs and developed a design reflecting a shared vision. The group ultimately selected an approach that emphasized seamless connections within the building. Despite a complicated construction process, TRI became fully operational in 2012, on time and under budget.
Today, TRI is known as the first "bench-to-bedside" facility in Australia and has elevated the nation's appreciation for the value of translational research. The distinctive appearance of the TRI building has attracted top biomedical researchers to Brisbane. The proximity between research, clinical trial, and biopharmaceutical manufacturing facilities has created opportunities to improve public health, sparking interdisciplinary and inter-institutional research on cancer, diabetes, HIV, and inflammatory disease.
While staff members from each institution are placed on separate floors, cross-disciplinary collaboration is an everyday way of working at TRI. The young organization has already drawn investment in translational research within Queensland and across Australia, and has brought prestige to Brisbane's biomedical industry. However, combining the visions of four large, complex organizations in one facility brought some political turmoil. Each of the partner institutions has been hesitant to relinquish autonomy and fully embrace TRI as a merged enterprise.
This case study is based on research conducted by MASS Design Group in October 2015. Funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies, this case illustrates how a capital project can connect multiple disciplines and institutions to achieve new levels of scientific and economic benefit.